Posted by: Re.Rooting | 9 June, 2009

Community Wealth Building and Social Change – The Time Has Come

Lately, I’ve found myself basking in the warm glow of the potential for Community Wealth Building – a new approach to Community Economic Development that uses a decentralized, post-corporate asset-based approach to engage communities in developing their own self sufficiency via participatory processes. This is almost exactly the movement I have been envisioning, except its already happening, and is well under way with well developed concepts, models, and etcetera!  Now that I have discovered all of this, and have realized that its going on in my hometown of Cleveland Ohio, I have a better focus of where I want to become engaged in this and other movements… in connecting them to America’s folk and cultural narratives, to our history and to our values. These concepts can easily be applied to new trends in agriculture, in emerging decentralized deliberative planning processes, and can be enabled by novel technologies and concepts.

These are many concepts which are coming to a head – on one hand novel, ingenious, innovative, and in these times of increasing wealth disparity and resource uncertainty: essential, but also rooted, directly democratic and participatory, and which seek in some ways a return to more traditional economic systems while utilizing a new wave of appropriate, sustainable and commons based technologies, new concepts and approaches, and re-emerging ideas about the role of civil society and local governance in economic development and self sufficiency and community resilience.

I began this amazing journey after having a friend of mine – who has a masters in economics from the University of Missouri – began opening my mind with the amazing ideas of David Korten – the author of The Post Corporate World, The Great Turning, and what I recently just read Agenda for A New Economy – From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth.(the website contains in-depth summaries of the different sections). I actually originally introduced my friend to YES! Magazine, of which Korten is a board member of, as well as a member of BALLE.  Check out YES!’s latest issue for some eye-opening articles on the New Economy Agenda, much of which is successfully being put into practice right here in the US as we speak.

When I read this issue and learned that Community Wealth was extending co-operative, worker-owned businesses to my hometown – the Cleveland area – I immediately started jumping with joy in the middle of Powells Books in Portland.  These were ideas I had developed on my own, and was scheming only several months ago of extending to Cleveland via Dennis Kucinich.  I figured that co-operative, worker owned businesses, despite how appropriate they would be to Cleveland given the record of economic development and disenfranchisement over the past few decades, would be far too radical and would stir up too much trouble.  Little did I know this ground was being broken and all of these things are being put into practice in the very places I imagined.

Worker-owned cooperatives represent $450 Million in Annual Economic Activity in the US. That is huge, not to mention $840 Million from retail food cooperatives, and far more combined in agricultural, utility, telecom, health care, housing, retail and child care cooperatives as well.  Co-operatives are a rapidly growing economic model in the United States – accounting for millions of jobs and billions in economic productivity. They allow employees to develop real assetts – by providing a steady, living wage and extending services that enable safe mortgaging in housing, as well as providing for the greater good of the community through a balanced work complex, sustainable practices and resources, developing capacity for localisation and freeing up time for civic engagement, education, family time, community service and public participation.

What concepts, models, best practices, and other resources does Community Wealth offer?

(from the website):

Local Communities:


Place-Based Institutions:

There are a few things I would add in there: Revolving Loans, Microenterprise Development, Community Currencies, Community Software, Local Supply Chain Development, Community Cultural Resurgence etc.  For the most part, though, they have all the bases covered, and more.

As well, they are not throwing around just pie-in-the-sky ideas.  These folks have all had a wealth of Community Economic Development experience, and have carefully developed these models based on their exemplary applications stretching back many years.  They are developed with a keen understanding of the needs, assetts, capacities and possibilites of communities in mind – understanding the institutions, the people, the infrastructure, the economic conditions and civic capacities.

– – – – – –

So whats the use of all of this?  Why do we need a new economy?  I suggest, again, reading some of the articles in YES! magazine: ‘Why This Crisis May Be Our Best Chance; Let Wall Street go and rebuild a Main Street economy’ . Korten really spells it out, as do other authors in the issue, including the likes of Wendell Berry and Vandana Shiva.  Our current economic model has consistently failed us – boom and bust cycles are not inevitable, they are signs of a failed system, moreover, a system that has failed the vast amount of people.  What do you do with a failed system?  I know someone who could offer some good advice:


“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
— Richard Buckminster Fuller
This same sentiment has been expressed by countless leaders in social justice and other movements – from Antonio Gramsci to Mahatma Ghandi.  To assume that mere surface-level changes, relying on a derivitive, debt based economy, overreliance on global trade, proprietary technology, resource depletion is foolish – no amount of patching this leaky tire can match a new path made on foot.
So what other ideas can be brought to the table to enable this new movement?  What thinkers can utilize these base level economic changes to lead to a major paradigm shift away from the status quo?  Lets see:
  • Mahatma Ghandi – Three Pillars of Swadeshi, Swaraj,
  • Myles Horton and the Traditional American Faith Based Social Justice Tradition
  • Transition Towns
  • Michael Albert – Participatory Economics
  • Commons Based Economics – Jonathan Rowe
  • Wealth Of Networks
  • The Environmental Justice Movement
  • Sustainable Agriculture Movement – Mad Farmers
  • Economic Justice Movement
  • Community Currency Movement
  • Bright Green/Dark Green/Light Green Movements
  • Community Food Systems, Community Supply Chains, Food Sovereignty
  • Community Supported Enterprise
The list could go on and on.  So many ideas to connect, interweave, so many concepts that could coalesce into even broader meta-concepts.  A movement of movements, broad based and robust running in from all directions, converging, diverging, building and breaking.  We can make these changes so common sense, so rooted in REAL american ideals and values (not the ones that the powers that be have tricked us into beleiving).
The economic, political and environmental situations we are faced with have been building.  Many have spoken of the dissapearance of civil society, the failure of industrial manufacturing and industrial agriculture, the widening income gaps and increasing scarcity.  As these problems have been mounting, so have the solutions: placed based, community economics, sustainable agriculture and production, intellectual commons, environmental and economic justice, climate activism  and grassroots social change etc.  The time has now come at a key time in our history for this kind of social change, but it cannot be alienating, it cannot be disclusive, it cannot be elitist, it cannot be over assumptive.  It must be carefully constructed from the grassroots, a movement as diverse as the people and places who are a part of it.  Im just a recent college graduate on the ground, watching these forces come together.  And I have a big ole goofy grin on my face.  This is what I was born for, what I was raised to be a part of, and represents a coalescence of multifacted philosophies and concepts I have been introduced to and have developed of my own volition.  For once, I feel that now is the best time I could ever be alive.



  1. Hi,

    I’m sure you’d also be interested in looking into the Transition Culture and Transition Towns Movement.
    Just Google it and you’ll reach a sea of stuff that you seemingly love so much.

    Peace and Joy,


    • Yes, I’ve been reading about TT for some time. It is one of the many inspirations I have for these posts. It is actually listed among many other concepts and movements in this very post. I find that TT is useful especially in conjunction with many other concepts and movements. Community Wealth has a lot of uses as it provides models and frameworks whereas TT provides methods and approaches.

      The Transition Movement is actually currently being applied in the townhalls of southwest missouri and the 1000 gardens project. I may make a post about this whole thing soon, but its a very unique situation.

      However, TT cannot be applied verbatim, especially in the midwest. It is actually itself an amalgum of different ideas and needs and fulfills different capacities which are lacking, however I feel that these social movements should be adapted to more rooted in deliberative processes, bioregional culture and should take more steps in the development of community economic systems. I think that economics is one area where TT is a bit lacking. A TT inspired group that I helped start here in Columbia, Missouri has started the Columbia Exchange Circle, a community currency. However, we are starting to realize that its capacities are more in building community, knowledge exchange and microeconomic development than actually changing the structure of community wealth. This said, it will take more than Totnes-style emergent economic systems to deal with these issues on a more comprehensive level. Community Wealth offers some ideas, and we are developing some other concepts and models here for our Community Food System here in Missouri.

      That said, TT offers many resources. The approach is invaluable – community based solutions to ecological and economic crises. However, there are many more ideas to bring to the table here, and other crises that these can solve. Rerooting people in a sense of bioregional culture, traditional responsibility and self reliance, civic engagement and direct democracy can allow social change and ecological transitions to happen in a more fluid, and more amiable way, especially in places like the midwest.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: